Saturday, April 25, 2009

Kim's challenge of writing poetical sound is still rumbling around in my brain. And, after the length of my previous effort, I decided to challenge myself with writing a sound poem in the Haiku form that I was taught in elementary school. I find it an extremely challenging poetical form. Here is what I wrote.

          Giggle, rill, chortle
          Thrill wet tootsie-toes splashing
          Fish and croaking frogs.

I'm not sure if I like it or not. But it is what it is.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

2009.04.19 - MP Election by Lot - Secondary Rumination Pt 4.

Media Misrepresentation

Here in BC it is election time. Again. The financially, emotionally, and ecologically / environmentally wasteful process of electioneering is gearing up. Signage has begun to festoon the lawns of our cities' citizenry, marring the beauty of trees in bloom with the plasticized and/or cardboard stiffened happy-faced mugs of politicians both honest and dissembling, serious and flippant, egoistical and modest. I no longer delude myself with the belief that I can distinguish a 'good'un' from a 'bad'un.' All the plasticized faces have much the same gloss, the same patina of good intentioned pabulumed rhetoric that is as likely to turn a heaven to a hell as is the others' mellifluous rhetoric will turn a Gomorrah into an Eden.

BC's incumbent party, the misleadingly named Liberals under their leader Gordon Campbell, are once again going to foist upon — er, I mean give — the people of BC a referendum to decide whether or not we move from a first past post form (FPP) of oligarchic electioneering to one comprised of a single transferable vote (STV) proportional representative form of oligarchic electioneering.

This repeats what Campbell's party did in our 2005 provincial election.

What I remember reading in and hearing from the media at that time was their considered judgement that STV would be handily defeated. In their so-called learned opinion FPP was clearly the preferred and 'smartest' democratic method. Curiously there was little 'proper' discussion, in my opinion, about STV, and the little I do remember was largely comprised of specious, albeit oft expressed, concerns about its comprehensibility. These 'serious' concerns were proffered with little, if any, elaboration or discussion about what is the difficulty. Which is odd, because in pragmatic reality the process is not that difficult to comprehend.

At the time I was ambivalent as to whether this annoying condescension to the BC voter was real, or if it was feigned as a method of trying to affect the outcome of the referendum. And I wondered to what extent the media discounted their own credibility with the members of the BC Citizens' Assembly each time they publicly expressed their misrepresentative STV fear-mongering.

As it came to pass, the results of that referendum re-affirmed that the media are disconnected from the people for whom they are supposed to be advocates. The majority of the popular vote opted to change to an STV electoral system. Significantly, however, this majority was not enough to bring STV into existence because not enough of the total number of ridings elected had opted to change to STV - by only one riding! So it came to be that the net result of the vote was the exact opposite of the popular vote. FPP had narrowly won a reprieve.

It is worth noting that that result affirmed the peculiar, at times, contra-democratic nature of our parliamentary oligarchic-democracy because it echoed, faintly, the 2001 provincial election results. In that 'democratic' electoral process the elected Liberal party, who had a slight popular majority over their opposition — and with less then 50% of the overall vote — 'won' all but two of the seventy-nine legislative seats. The house completely and utterly misrepresented the popular vote. This result may have been, in part, what initiated Campbell and the Liberal's to establish the BC Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform.

So, let me get back on track. I am blogging this because during the Assembly's evaluation a friend of mine sent me a Globe and Mail clipping. She asked for my opinion about it.

Even with the general timbre of the media regarding STV, I was shocked by this article's particular speciousness, its failures of cohesion, logic, and rational argument. Even now, I am not sure what shocked me more about the piece, that someone who has some respect and standing in Canadian journalism would have written it, or that one of Canada's most important print journals would have published it. I have struggled with why such a thing was published, and no matter how I have run down the lanes of reason, I wind up at fear. The item was written either from a place of fear, which explains, somewhat, its extremely poor argument. Or it was written as manipulative fear-mongering by a dissembler. But I have reasoned that most likely it was written to implant fear because of the writer's own fear. When you read it, I would enjoy reading what you think of it. All comments welcome.

This blog entry is to publish my reaction to Norman Spector's article, 'Single Transferable Nonsense.' I have been wrestling with how to proceed. To understand my argument, you need to read Spector's 'Nonsense.' I am torn between just linking you to it, or transcribing the text here. The latter would likely be a copyright violation, of course, although I am making no money from it. I most definitely want you to read it before you read my argument, in order to ensure that you have something in your own mind about it before I pick apart Spector's supposed argument. With that in mind, I would prefer not to hyperlink you away from here. So...

I've decided to do both. As you will have noticed, the article is hyper-linked to Spector's web page, but I have also included his text here. Below that you will find my reaction, which, by the way, my friend suggested I send to Spector. I did, but he did not respond to it.
10 January 2005

Single Transferable Nonsense

The Globe and Mail, Section A13.

The proposal that British Columbia adopt the single transferable vote (STV) in provincial elections is such a dumb idea, one hardly knows where to begin.

Have I mentioned that STV supporters are asking us to try on for size the voting system used by only one of the Commonwealth's 53 countries? Now, it's possible that 400,000 Maltese know something the other 1.8 billion inheritors of British political traditions haven't yet grasped, but I wonder.

Proponents of this Rube Goldberg voting system say it's as simple as 1-2-3, but they're unable to explain how STV would work in practice. And, though they argue that transferring the transferable part of the ballot would reduce B.C.'s polarization, Malta's politics have historically been infamously polarized.

STV advocates contend that only one country uses the system because it transfers power from politicians and parties to the people. I smell other interests at play.

Like all proportional voting systems, STV produces minority governments. In the inevitable negotiation of a coalition that inevitably follows, the largest party normally gets together with third, fourth or even fifth parties.

The second largest group of voters are disenfranchised, while fringe groups are empowered. And they multiply. In British Columbia's fruitful climate, that's a recipe for disaster.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, B.C. politics are not polarized. It's our society that's polarized — every which way.

Some say it's the legacy of European trade unionism rubbing against buccaneer U.S. capitalism — whence British Columbia settlers initially came. Others reason that God in her wisdom tilted the continent westward, and all the loose screws and wing-nuts gravitated to the coast.

Whatever. This is the only British Columbia we have. Besides, while the climate is challenging, the weather is good — and we need not wake up in the West to the musings of our eastern neighbour's premier.

I'll grant you we've had a few doozies of our own out here. Nevertheless, political parties have been one of the few mechanisms that bridge our differences and make B.C. society work.

You can see the dynamic as we head into the May 17 provincial election. How can I be so sure? Fixed election dates are just one of the ideas, foreign to British Parliamentary tradition, that have recently been imported into our political system.

Still, notwithstanding our legendary zaniness, both the Liberals and the NDP are moving toward the centre, keeping their respective wackos well in check.

The new leader of the NDP, Carole James, is speaking to business groups and promising to lead a consensus-style government along the lines of former premier Mike Harcourt. Meanwhile, Gordon Campbell has just appointed a real liberal as finance minister.

Notwithstanding media reports, Mr. Campbell has governed only slightly right of centre. For example, even after winning 77 of 79 seats in 2001, he never once mentioned the word “abortion.” I bring this up because one of the prime movers in pushing STV in B.C. served in a government that tried to de-fund abortions. Indeed, Nick Loenen and Premier Bill Vander Zalm [sic] were seat-mates in the two-member Richmond riding and soul mates on several controversial issues.

At a Social Credit convention in 1989, Mr. Loenen stirred controversy by proposing to retain a commitment to “Christian principles” in the party constitution. When he left office in 1991, he urged the religious right to get out and “fly their colours more openly” on issues such as abortion.

At that time, Mr. Loenen said he was thinking of writing a book on religion in politics, which eventually transmogrified into one on electoral reform. Not coincidentally, his STV proposal is tailor-made for groups hoping to do away with a woman's right to choose.

As Socred caucus chair, Mr. Loenen had a front-row seat to observe a dictatorial premier in action and, later, his messy removal from office. In reaction to this experience, he and other proponents of STV are proposing to destroy the finest political system in the world, British parliamentary democracy.

The better route to counter the friendly and not-so-friendly dictatorships that we've seen in Canada would be to align our system with the mother of parliaments at Westminster. More free votes, relaxed party discipline and a coequal role for caucus and the party in selecting the leader have worked wonders.

Of proposals like Mr. Loenen's, leftie activist Judy Rebick has said, “This may be the only issue where you can have a left-right alliance.” Need I say any more?
And here is my reaction to his blithering tripe. (For this blog I have slightly edited it for errors and grammar.)
February 13, 2005

Re: “Single Transferable Nonsense” by Norman Spector, Globe and Mail, (10 January 2005 The Globe and Mail, A13.]

Linda, here is my mostly off-the-cuff response to Spector’s piece. Sorry for the delay, but I haven’t felt like thinking/writing for the last while.

As I read it, being unfamiliar with Spector’s writing, I expected a cogent argument given the prestige the G&M reportedly has. I was disappointed. I wasn’t able to finish reading the 2nd paragraph before finding him fear mongering in the most specious of ways. He says that of the commonwealth countries only (stupid?) Malta has it. An odd thing to say, and a bit misleading, as at least a part of Ireland has it, and it exists in non-commonwealth countries, including (maybe, given my weak memory), Austria. So, what’s his point here? That because no one else in our “special” group has it, it is a stupid way to go? Really, this isn’t even good fear mongering, let along a sound argument.

For myself, I see the opening paragraph as setting the tone for this kind of argument. He, in my mind, has already lost it if this is his best argument. (And I am sure that is what he does think, because that is his closing argument: “... he and other proponents of STV are proposing to destroy the finest political system in the world, British parliamentary democracy.” I will come back to that statement later.)

This first argument struck me as being not dissimilar in spirit and intent to those made to a populace when the authorities, who had most to gain in keeping the status quo, imprisoned Galileo for proposing something upsetting to an ideology and its power base. “Let’s not risk changing how we see the truth of circumstance lest it upset the existing truth.” Spector has falsified the effectiveness of STV by stupefying the Maltese and ignoring all those other places in which it works. (A more reasoned argument, not possible in his allotted space, and one of the absolute malignancies of our current media structure, would be to cite those places it works, those it doesn’t, and then argue that it won’t work in BC because, for example, we are as moronic in temperament as the Israelis, where many have claimed it doesn ‘t work.) By not even elaborating on Malta’s STV — there are several different kinds — he is making a misleading, as well as vacuous, comparison. (Hence the BC-STV, which has tried to address some of the problems the Citizens' Assembly have seen in STVs elsewhere.)

Spector then continues to mislead — I was tempted to say lie, but perhaps his ability to comprehend compromises his ability to understand anything beyond kindergarten arithmatic — when he says that no one can figure out how the transfer will work. In point of fact, the documentation from the Assembly shows exactly how it would work. And given the prominence and trust we have in computers to crunch, and accountants to munch, numbers, this argument is even more specious than the first. And it is malevolent in that it is simple fear mongering. I wonder if what he is afeared of is being no longer able to predict a riding’s victor after the 2nd polling station has been 50% counted?

I was amused to learn that despite rumours to the contrary, BC Politics is not polarized. I found this the most amusing of his specious red-herring arguments, in a province where a popular vote of less than 50% of the voters can result in a house with no opposition! His smelling others’ intentions strikes me as a pot calling the kettle black.

And then the colour of the pot is revealed: fear of minority governments. Plainly and simply this is his fear. (This argument was ardently and well articulated by more than one of the speakers when I presented my own little take on this. Spector’s attempt is pathetic at best.) The odd(?) or curious(?) thing about that argument is that in Canadian politics, minority governments have been able to enact excellent “liberal” policies. (Is Spector anti-liberal?)

At this point in my discussion, I will include [Noam] Chomsky observation on the role these kind of hack arguments are perceived as necessary by the “elite” in running well a democracy.
A manual of the public relations industry by one of its leading figures, Edward Bernays, opens by observing that ‘The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society’. ‘But clearly it is the intelligent minorities which need to make use of propaganda continuously and systematically’, because it is only they, ‘a trifling fraction’ of the population, ‘who understand the mental processes and the wires which control the public mind’. In its commitment to ‘open competition’ that will ‘function with reasonable smoothness’, our ‘society has consented to permit free competition to be organized by leadership and propaganda’, a ‘mechanism which controls the public mind’ and enables the intelligent minorities ‘so to mold the mind of the masses that they will throw their newly gained strength in the desired direction’, thus ‘regimenting the public mind every bit as much as an army regiments the bodies of its soldiers’. This process of ‘engineering consent’ is the very ‘essence of the democratic process’, Bernays wrote 20 years later, shortly before he was honored for his contributions by the American Psychological Association in 1949.” (Chomsky, N. Perspectives on Power: Reflections on Human Nature and the Social Order. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1997, p.231, and citations therein.)
Further reflection on STV creating a polarization monster reveals yet another aspect of the red herring nature of Spector’s argument. When he writes that it is not politics, but society that is polarized, that is a prototypical statisticians’ crap argument. It ignores the fear voter, it ignores the party-line voter, and it ignores the non-voter. (I am reminded by this argument of our department’s new VP who, trying to make us feel good about working five years without a contract and too few of us doing the job, said that the biggest problem “we” have in turning around “his” department is “engagement”. Why? Because of a notoriously low turn out the TELUS execs get from us on their internal poll that they spends 10s of Ks on. The execs also get about a 30% approval rating, and so they really do need to turn us around by getting the 60% who do not respond to the poll to further slag them! Anyway, I was so enraged by his public display of condescension and stupidity that I told him that most of us were quite proud, five years ago, to say we worked for BC Tel, and that most are now ashamed to admit that we do. “You did that,” I said. “Not us. Don’t talk to us about engagement!” But he felt that he had made a valid argument, in complete ignorance, like Spector, that it was only a crap statistician’s argument.) Poor turn out on a vote or a poll says something beyond a failure to be engaged, even if that something is to raise the question “Why the apathy?”

But the most amusing argument Spector proffers is to introduce the politics of an anti-abortionist! What has that got to do with the argument!?! Spector manages to dismiss every other member of the assembly the ability to set aside partisanship with respect to such personal beliefs! By doing this he is attempting to introduce a polarizing argument to smear the basis of the decision, presumably made outside of such polarizing sentiment! Yech! Yech! Yech!

The only thing that Spector says that is true is that the house would be better with relaxed partisan politics. And, likely, if the whipping practice within Canadian parliaments hadn’t been to increase partisanship over the last 30 years, it is quite likely that the motivation for forming a “citizens assembly on electoral reform” wouldn’t even have come to be, let alone it suggesting a change in electoral practice. Why? Because BC-STV is an attempt to sidestep partisan politics. And while it is a heavy handed attempt, hopefully it will be an effective cure against party polarization in the houses and the homes.

I am not hopeful. The same infantile insistence on party loyalty versus the pragmatics of running a house of “leadership” will likely invade STV and pervert its attempt at “improving” democracy in and out of the house and home. This problem is not inherent with either STV or FPP, but is extant in the weakness of people drawn to power to fulfill their flaccid egos.

Spector’s arguments against STV are specious at best, and fear mongering at least. “Saving” politics requires an influx of mostly a-political people whose concerns are neither self-interest — in any of its guises — nor power grasping — in any of its guises. Sigh! In Canada’s younger days, I would like to think that there were far more drawn to politics to help the country than there were to help themselves. I think maybe there was, although the latter are always present.

[End of response.]
Because of my general disdain for the honesty and integrity of the mainstream media, I have for this election been keeping myself from reading the slanted political agendœ of the media. However, I live in a media age, and have a wife who watches the news almost twenty-four hours a day, and couldn't help but hear, once, one of the local media's talking heads comment about the difficulty in understanding the voting results of STV. That the change of voting system is even a referendum subject on the next ballot seems to be something minimally talked about. To test my thought about that, I Googled "STV referendum 2009 BC" and limited it to Canada. I got 14,500 hits, which isn't bad on first blush. But it wasn't until page two of the hit list that a mainstream Canadian media outlet was shown. And on page two there were only two — The Times Columnist of Victoria and CTVBC. The balance were either from grass roots web pages advocating it, or government pages talking about it, or 'unofficial' web media like My quick look at the various links made it clear to me that the issue is important to the people of BC, but that the mainstream media is largely ignoring it. And in doing so have again proven, to me, that they are no longer here to inform the polity about the world, but are propagandists supporting the status quo within which their owners have become fat and comfortable.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


I've decided to give the verbal equivalent to YouTube a try. I've uploaded one of my short stories to Scribd. I am curious about how Scribd works, and of course I am curious to see if anyone other than my friend Peter Herrmann will enjoy the story. To read it, click on Bilgewater in Heaven. Tell me what you think of it, especially if you hated it!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

2009.04.11 - The Sound of Water - Sort of.

A Poem

Near the end of January, Kimberly Keith challenged the poetry group, with which we share membership, to write a poem about noise/sound words. How did she put it?

"Let's hear what you have to say with sound words...crash, boom, splat!!"

(For those of you waiting for the final installment of the STV rumination, it is in the works.)

Well, that turned out to be a very hard thing to do. I have been thinking of it since then, sat down to write something several times, and always my thoughts turned to water. As soon as they did, I would, like the fool trying to push water up river, push my thoughts in other directions. But to no avail. So, I gave in and wrote the following. Near the end of its composition, I stumbled into the music of Adham Shaikh (or try his 'MySpace' space). I suggest that you might enjoy listening to Somptin Hapnin with Kinnie Starr while reading the poem.
Each time I turn thought towards sound,
I sound in my mind sound sound words, and
              inexorably they gurgle, chuckle, giggle, 
            murmur, echo 
                    down streams of endless 

Water, water everywhere.

Water chortling down thick think tank drains
     and stainless steal sinks — 
     sinkholes in geyser guises,
burbling onomatopoeically into rills, and a 
     fulgent humour
     found sibilant in sweet Aphrodite's 

I hear wind talking through stays 
and masts 
and rigging
like owls in an empowered parliament
     bemusing wisely of mute mice
          and man
                    walking on a sound of salt water
                         and jellied fishes.

Then within a breadth of breath,
     in a snap of
      breath, gasp of
      breath, dearth even death of breath,
my thoughts turn to baby wavelets of water lapping,
     like lazy lions' tongues, 
          against hulls of barnacled
               white and faded
                    red and stalwart

Then blue faced, true-blued face, 
wet race-thrilled face,
I hear sheets of hemp and silk sail howling lines,
     trilling their thrilling striven
     pulling strain against stanchions sound, 
     and safe;
and inside my head, in waves,
                    booming bass drum
                         thrumming kettle drum
                              waves great 
                              and small 
                              and too
                                       too tiny and tall. 

I feel the icy spindrift needles sending 
sea sharp ended points
in a fruitless effort to efface placid black keyboard riffs, 
creating anew faces etched with rifts, 
          of cold sweating
               tango dancing
                    wing-wind prancing
                         teary eye-lined squinted
                                    eye lines.

And all the while, voice is lost, puff-gusted out
     blown back
          down the throat backs
               of sailing boat racers
                    unsoundly racing their sail boats
                         o'er water, under
                              and through it.

Race, fingers, race to mine the mind
of unsounded soundless sound,
flat screened face aglow
     bent backed
          and fingers bent too to
tip tap tippity tap tappity tip tap tap tapping.

How far is that, in reality, from
     drip drap, drippity drip drip drappity
          drip drop           

Water, water, everywhere,
               every sound thick and thin
                    far away ways in mind, 
                         unsound, sound
                              and mindless.

I would like to publicly thank CBC Radio2's Pat Carrabré of 'The Signal' for introducing me to the great great find of Adham Shaikh. And, for those curious about the title 'Somptin Hapnin with Kinnie Starr,' I suggest you listen to Kinnie Starr's engaging little CBC-Recorded concert. 

Good night.